Tag Archives: rote sayings

Rote repetitions that simply aren’t true

One grows very tired of incorrect rote repetitions that have taken on the air of fact in the public mind. Some I remember from childhood, but haven’t heard much since; some I started hearing in adulthood, and some I’ve heard all my damn life from people that I know are smarter than that. So let’s haul them out, starting with one that’s pertinent to the day…

“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain.” Watch me. Whether I vote or not, the exorbitant tax bill I donate to our corporations with the IRS as their collection agency should count for more than whether I marked a piece of paper for the felons and boneheaded initiatives of my choice.

“The only stupid question is the one you don’t ask.” In some contexts it can be true, but not universally. I am very often asked by complete strangers “How long have you been growing that beard?” It’s stupid because they aren’t using their brains. One would presume that at some point I had trimmed it, rather than just letting it go; one might judge this by the smooth bottom edge and well-pruned mustache. So, no; in fact, there are a lot of stupid questions that should really never be asked.

“Profanity shows a lack of vocabulary.” Not necessarily. It might show anger, laziness, vulgarity, disrespect or many things, but just because you use the word ‘fuck’ does not mean you have a limited vocabulary. I know people whose brains are stamped Merriam-Webster whose favorite word is ‘shit.’

“Two wrongs don’t make a right.” A complete fallacy designed to deter decent people from retaliating against jerks in the only language a jerk understands. If it’s true, we should never have fought back against Japan or helped crush Germany. This one is closely allied to…

“Violence never solves anything.” Oh, yes, it can. It does not cure the underlying problem of the need for violence, but violence will solve a lot of things. The Holocaust did not end because the Allies asked Hitler nicely and patiently to stop the genocide. It ended because the Allies used violence against his country.

“You can’t prove a negative.” Sure I can–at least some negatives. I can prove, for example, that I am not an ostrich. Ostriches have feathers and much longer necks, check a picture of one. This statement has its place, but is used incontinently where it does not apply.

“Everything has shades of grey.” If you really think this, you have no authentic moral compass. If you can’t see absolute evil and absolute good, then you are forever finding good in evil and evil in good, in which case none of your moral judgments mean a thing.

“You have to respect the law.” No, actually, you do not. You can have zero respect for it while still obeying it, either because it makes sense, or because you don’t want the penalties. Compliance under threat is not respect. Some police think they are getting respect, when in reality they are getting fear.

“Everything happens for a reason.” If you mean for a demonstrable scientific reason, probably yes. If you mean because it needed to happen as part of some grand plan, you just said that your Grand Planner needed bubonic plague, the Armenian genocide, 9/11 and Steve Carell movies. Really want to go there?

“The pen is mightier than the sword.” Not always. You start writing with a pen. I’ll start slashing with a saber. If that were true, the awesomeness of your pen would defeat me. However, it is true that the pen is powerful. It’s just not all-powerful.

“A vote for a third party is a vote thrown away.” Common form of pressure used by someone about to become a hysterical bitch if you say you aren’t going to vote for the least odious option (which happens to be the one they want to win). A vote thrown away is a ballot not submitted, thus discarded.

“You can’t hit someone for words.” That should usher in a renaissance for the world’s loudmouthed abusers: a guaranteed pass against any actual consequences that might teach them a lesson, such as not to be a verbal abuser. Some words not only deserve a knuckle sandwich–they demand one.

“If you don’t exercise a right, you’ll lose it.” Nah.  Exercising a right has zero impact on whether it gets taken away, unless of course people exercise it very stupidly. If they do that, exercising it is indeed likely to get it revoked.

“It takes one to know one.” I suppose in the case of biochemists, that’s nearly correct. In most cases, it’s not only incorrect, it’s developmentally five years old. I am not a police officer. I can usually tell one when I see him or her. They usually wear khaki, black or blue, carry guns and badges and Batman belts, drive cars that say ‘POLICE’, and so on. It doesn’t take one to know one.